Saturday, August 27, 2016

About the Recipe: Jesse's Whole-Grain, Gluten-Free, Sweet-Potato & Salmon Doggy muffins

Jesse will turn 4 on the 30th; and I’ve been planning his birthday treats since I finished making Presley’s Pupcakes. Now, like our youngest furbaby, these treats are somewhat complex. As you’ll soon see (if you haven’t already looked over the actual recipe), there’s a lot going on in these treats—so much, in fact, that I’ve separated out the gluten-free baking mix into a different post (click here to read over that section).

And if you haven’t looked over the ingredients list yet, you’re going to think I’m crazy when you do (especially if you check out the baking mix, also). These treats kind of had me stressed out a bit—as I’ve never actually took the time to figure out gluten free baking; and while I’m still not a master, I can say that I’m happy with the way they’ve turned out—at the end of the day, I have two very happy dogs who probably wish I’d let them gorge themselves on these treats instead of rationing them out so they don’t get sick or too fat.

The inspiration for this recipe comes from a canned dog food that I happened to purchase at random one day. It’s Purina’s Beyond Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe Ground Entrée; and Jesse’s reaction to this new food was positive enough for me to notice. Even though Jesse’s tweet of appreciation didn’t get much of a reaction from Purina (i.e. they didn’t send us any or pay me in any way to promote it), I stored the information in the back of my head for future use…and this is that use—Jesse’s Barkday Treats.

I’ve used sweet potatoes in treats before since they’re perfectly healthy for dogs and help aid digestion and provide healthy fiber. Also, the flavors in sweet potatoes pair really well with the warm spices—like cinnamon and ginger—which I’m fond of using in their non-savory treats anyway (these are made sans cinnamon as they’re more savory). Additionally, and not to get too graphic here—but if your dog is constipated or you’ve noticed he/she is straining when going number 2…sweet potatoes can help her/him out in that regard (as does pumpkin).

Now, I don’t normally make savory treats; and that’s, honestly, because I feel weird about incorporating meat or a meat product into a baked good (it’s kind of the same reason I’ll never try baby food that has anything in it other than mashed fruits). I’ve done it before using chicken, and the saving grace there was that I used canned chicken which seemed a little bit better—for whatever reason—which is the main reason I opted for pouch salmon in this recipe. Now, I know that I should have bought fresh (or even frozen) salmon and cooked it myself if only to help control the amount of sodium and preservatives in the recipe; however, I’ve never cooked salmon before and don’t have a desire to learn how to, either (which probably means I’ll be doing it next week).

So, I used pouch salmon; and feel free to cast all the shade you’d like over that fact. Feel free to cook that salmon yourself and email me with your bragging rights after you’ve made this recipe—I’d accept that feedback, gladly.

Like I said, I used pouch salmon; and for its ease of use (no draining—just rip it open and scoop it into the bowl), I’d encourage you to do the same; however, I understand if you’re planning on using canned salmon that you already have in your pantry. If that’s the case, drain it over a bowl and reserve the liquid before you start to make this recipe. If it’s packed in water, use it to offset some of the other liquid in this recipe; and if it’s packed in oil, use it instead of some of the olive oil.

If you read over the recipe posted below, you’ll notice that I took care to write in the prep work and note that it should all be done prior to mixing any of the ingredients. An important thing about baking and especially gluten-free baking is to have your prep work out of the way before you begin since it’ll make it all go smoother; and this recipe has several components— to say the least. Your mixture will not wait on you to cook the quinoa or sweet potato if you forget; and they both need to cool completely before you begin since it could trigger the cooking process if you use them hot or even warm.

Now, it’s important to know that salmon and sweet potato were the only two ingredients I absolutely knew I was going to use when I was in the planning stages of this recipe. The gluten-free component came into play after I realized that I was somewhat trepidatious about baking that way for real; and in this instance, I decided to face that “fear” head on by not only using gluten-free flours but also whole grain flours at that.

Despite the fact that my baking mix calls for a kilo of flour, I only used 280 grams of my whole-grain, gluten free baking mix in this particular recipe. With some quick math, that leaves me with 720 grams of mix to store in my freezer until I get this itch to bake gluten-free again (which will probably be kinda soon as space in my freezer comes at a premium). Why did I mix a kilogram of baking mix when I only needed 280 grams, you ask…Well, the guide I used for that mix called for 1000 grams and it called for 700 grams of whole grain flours mixed with 300 grams of starches/lighter flours…and I was too intrigued (i.e.: afraid), truthfully, to scale that down.

280 grams may seem like an odd figure to you; but as I talked about in the about the baking mix section, different flours weight differently. A cup of regular, all-purpose flour weighs 140 grams; and I developed this recipe based off of a two-cup measure—thusly arriving at 280 grams. Now, why do I mention two cups and don’t actually measure that way—well, quite simply, 1 cup (measured and leveled like I would do for all-purpose white flour) of my baking mix actually weighed 153 grams by itself. Precision is important when dealing with flours that don’t behave or weigh the same as regular flour.

So after I made the decision to make these muffins gluten free (and btw, I’m referring to them as muffins because I elected to not use cupcake liners), I knew there were several factors involved with gf baking that I would need to overcome. GF flours tend to make baked goods dry and crumbly. Enter the quinoa.

Other than being a super food, quinoa acts the same way as oats in that they make baked goods moist—or they absorb and retain moisture when used. They also add another grain to the mix and make the muffins that much more filling overall. In this recipe, the yogurt kind of takes the place of buttermilk in a more traditional cake or cupcake—it, too, helps keep the cakes moist whilst baking.

Ground chia mixed with broth
Ground (cha-cha-cha) chia seeds (yes, the same that you’d use to grow a “pet” of the same name) help with binding and thus making the mixture less likely to crumble when it’s baked. The reason I used finely ground chia seeds (and purchased a mortar and pestle to grind them myself) was because when mixed with water form a slimy mixture which can be used to replace an egg. Eggs are a binding agent, also; however, I felt that I’d used enough eggs with 1 egg and 1 egg white (that extra egg white was also used to help combat crumbling) that I wanted to use the ground chia seeds as an alternative for an additional egg—eggs are safe for dogs to eat; and 1 isn’t a problem…but two felt like I was adding too much fat.

Yes, I did this by hand
The reason there’s additional (slightly ground) chia seeds mixed into the dry mixture is because it was the remainder of the small package that I’d purchased at my big-box retailer while walking through that isle and becoming infatuated with the idea of using them in a treat. Yes, I’m fully aware of how ridiculous I am—or that sounds—but, you know, I think I’ve made something kind of wonderful here and it was because I maintained this attitude throughout this process.

I researched and became fascinated with different products. It’s the same reason I bought the agar agar powder; and despite the fact that I didn’t use it, I’m not disappointed with that purchase and plan to use it in another recipe at another time. Just because I didn’t need to use it in this mix, doesn’t mean it was a waste.

And while it may appear that I just chose my gf flours at random or because of their easy availability, I actually didn’t. I read up on all the flours and tried to blend them to create almost the perfect mix for this purpose. For example, the sticky factor is why there’s glutinous rice flour included—to help prevent the need for the dreaded xanthan gum; and after purchasing most of the flours and continuing to read about them, I discovered the chia seed resource. As a side note, ground flax seeds help bind ingredients as well; however, I’m already familiar with flax seeds and have used them before whereas I’d never used chia seeds prior to this endeavor.

All in all, I’ve made dozens of cakes and other baked goods throughout the years; and I didn’t want to throw out that experience when attempting this kind of recipe despite the fact that gf baking is a lot different than regular baking. By this point I realize that this recipe is really my way of adapting a regular muffin recipe to overcome the challenges presented with gf free flours; and I think it can be useful for others to read it that way, also.
The flavorings—ginger, dill, parsley, and lemongrass powder—were all selected as they’re sort of the traditional parings with salmon. Dill and parsley also help dog’s breath while ginger and lemongrass powder have other health benefits (lemon and lemon juice aren’t as good for dogs, generally speaking). I went the lemongrass route because I had it from my Asian Market adventures otherwise I would have used lemon balm from my garden again. Also, I used dried parsley this go around because something ate the last of mine in my garden.

To increase the savory aspect of this recipe, I knew I wanted to use broth or stock in place of water; and I actually cooked the quinoa in it and mixed it into my chia seed slurry also. If you don’t want it or can’t find one that’s gluten free, simply use water as an alternative. Being gluten free wasn’t something I was worried about with the broth—I was more concentrated on the sodium content. The broth I chose was unsalted and had the least amount of sodium per serving that I could find in the store; however, last night when I was thinking about it, I realized that flour is a typical thickener.

After a quick 11th hour Google search, I realized that flour isn’t usually the problem; instead, it’s the yeast that could contain gluten. While some yeast components have gluten or aren’t considered gluten free, the particular one the broth contained is considered gluten-free. Now, if you’re thinking it’s strange that I almost freaked out about that, it probably is; but I was aiming to be as authentic as possible.

If you pay attention to the directions in the recipe, you’ll see I mention scrapping the bowl and making sure everything is incorporated. In my reading, I found that it’s a common problem that the flours don’t incorporate as easily as regular wheat-based white flour—which is one of the main reasons I chose to use a mixer in the first place. One of the benefits of gluten-free baking is, however, the lack of gluten after all; which means that you can mix until your heart is content without worrying about too much gluten forming and making your baked good tough.

going in the oven...
On that note, if you do any amount of baking you’ll probably notice that there’s quite a bit of baking powder and baking soda included… gf recipes require more leaveners to get a similar result as using wheat-based flours. And with the acidity from the yogurt, I decided to add baking soda as well as just powder.

...and coming out
The baking part went off without a hitch. I was very sure to spray my pans really well as gf products are known to stick; and I used a coconut oil spray because I had it. It worked really well even without spreading extra flour on the tins. If you want a little bit more insurance, you can sprinkle a little of the flour mix in your cups and tap it around…or you could also use cupcake liners.

Super moist and cakey
Onto the icing. Another common pairing for salmon is cream cheese; and I knew that’s where I wanted to go with the icing. It couldn’t have been simpler either. The tapioca flour helps stiffen the recipe (and is used in the recipe anyway); and kind of helped it fluff up in a similar way as powdered sugar would—but that much sugar isn’t good for dogs and wouldn’t have paired well with this very savory muffin. I incorporated dill and parsley since I figured the green flecks would be kind of appealing; and in the end, I think this icing would also be pretty good as a vegetable dip.

Yummy with or without icing
Overall, I was very happy with these treats. The muffins were light and fluffy; and they looked really good and kind of pretty straight out of the oven (the tops were crackled as if they had a topping). The boys have gone crazy for them (they entered the kitchen as soon as they smelled the broth boiling with the quinoa and barely left throughout the entire process). On a difficulty rating—now that they’re done, I’ve give them a 7 mostly because of all the steps; however, as I said before, having everything mapped out helped keep things going on track. I think these could be good made with white flour, too; however, it would have to be converted back.

If you try this recipe, I’d really enjoy hearing from you; and I’d especially like to hear from you if you’d like me to try another gluten-free recipe or have an idea for one. As always, I welcome question and comments alike and feel free to contact me using the social media links to the right; and be sure to follow Jess on Twitter @jdawg_yellow—at least wish him a happy birthday on Tuesday!

They even helped with clean up...

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